DVD: Man on Fire (1987)

April 26, 2017 | By

Film: Very Good

Transfer: Very Good

Extras: n/a

Label:  KL Studio Classics (Kino) / Unobstructed View

Region: 1 (NTSC)

Released:  November 15, 2016

Genre:  Action / Suspense

Synopsis: A war vet goes on a vengeance quest and rescue mission when the young teen he was hired to protect by her wealthy parents is abducted by ruthless kidnappers.

Special Features:  Theatrical Trailer.




The first filming of A. J. Quinnell’s novel harkens back to 1987, when French director Élie Chouraqui (O Jerusalem, The Origins of Violence) adapted the tale of a hired gun-tuned-babysitter with Sergio Donati (The Big Gundown, Holocaust 2000, Raw Deal). Veteran indie producer Arnon Milchan (The Revenant, L.A. Confidential, TV’s Masada) perhaps ensured the film had more gloss than its otherwise modest budget, with Italian locations in Rome, Milan, and Lombardia conveying the privileged environment of the wealthy parents who lose their daughter to thuggish kidnappers.

Quinnell’s story’s isn’t complex, but it requires an actor who can add depth to otherwise silent anti-hero Creasy. Scott Glenn had gained some box office prominence in Michael Mann’s infamous The Keep (1983), conveyed humour and empathy in Philip Kaufman’s The Right Stuff (1983), and showed significant athleticism in John Frankenheimer’s Japanese warrior riff The Challenge (1982), so he fits Creasy quite snugly, showing nervousness when the latest gig from special forces pal David (Joe Pesci) initially involves ‘babysitting’ a young teen, ferrying her from house to school and pre-planned locations to ensure enterprising kidnappers haven’t got a chance.

Naturally it takes patience, a moment of naked vulnerability, and skill to snatch young Samantha (newcomer Jade Malle) from his safety, and after recuperating from serious wounds from the smash & grab, Creasy takes it upon himself to rescue the girl: like a warrior needing to restore his honor with the otherwise understand family, he gears up and uses his unique skills to track down scumbags, extract information, and exert a little payback in the process.

Chouraqui isn’t too subtle in suggesting lead kidnapper Conti (Danny Aiello) is a pederast, and he’s surrounded himself with a band of sleazy lieutenants, including Lou Castel (The Cassandra Crossing, Treasure Island). Stentorian voiced Paul Shenar is fine as emotionally restrained father Ettore, Brooke Adams has little to do except pout and later restrain welling up fear as American mother Jane, and Jonathan Pryce has a small role as Ettore’s lawyer. The dogged Italian detective annoys and ultimately aids Creasy at key stages in his quest, and Chouraqui’s action scenes are slick, kinetic, but never showy. What genuinely distinguishes this otherwise simple revenge B-flick is the dreamy tone which its director imposes through striking use of colour, dissolves, buoyant camera movements, and very effective slo-mo shots which are neatly punctuated by synth elements from John Scott’s otherwise heavily orchestral score.

The opening titles and hospital scenes which launch into the film’s flashback structure are gorgeous, especially the long held single shot of a strobing light fixture and slowly human chaos churning below. Cinematographer Gerry Fisher (Brannigan, Wise Blood, Wolfen) sticks with a warm, red-brown palette, and frames every shot exquisitely. There’s no shortage of rainy, misty scenes, nor neon colours, and short bursts of graphic violence which are nevertheless hugely conservative compared to Tony Scott’s oversexed 2004 version. Chouraqui’s approach hints trauma through colour, retarded motion, and superb stereo surround design, but the real glue that ensures the odd friendship between pre-teen Samantha and Creasy is John Scott’s main theme. Lush, a little romantic, and unbridled in its melodrama, it helps shore up a father-daughter friendship which the script’s dialogue fails to convincingly build, and even if it gets a bit heavy-handed through repetition, it’s the musical echo of Creasy’s drive which pushes him repeatedly to risk his life for a kid destined for an ignominious death. (Fans of Die Hard might also recognize the main theme, which was tracked into the finale in which Jon McClane sees Holly among the street chaos before Karl rears up like a Frankenstein monster.)

Creasy’s also too wrapped up with PTSD from his prior escapades to realize he’s being used by the police to find the girl, essentially doing their work after they convinced Ettore to hold back on any ransom because they will kill Samantha nonetheless.

For it’s flaws in inferring more than actually explaining and developing (the PTSD of buddy David comes up in a weird wedding scene, and is forgotten soon after), Man on Fire is briskly paced, with a final act that’s just about the hunt for scumbags and saving a girl – pure B-movie fodder.

KINO’s DVD and Blu-ray sport a proper, clean widescreen transfer, and great stereo surround sound. Pity the discs are short on extras, because an audio commentary could’ve explained Chouraqui and Scottt’ attraction to the novel, and offered info on the lesser-known director, whose other best-known English language film is Harrison’s Flowers (2000).



© 2017 Mark R. Hasan



External References:
Editor’s BlogIMDB  —  Soundtrack Album — Composer Filmography
Vendor Search Links:
Amazon.ca —  Amazon.com —  Amazon.co.uk





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Category: Blu-ray / DVD Film Review

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